Russia is the worst country for sexual and gender minorities in Europe

17th of May is not only a celebration of the Norwegian national day; it is also the International Day against Homophobia (IDAHO). While blue-copies of the Russian legislation banning so-called propaganda of non-traditional relations is on the rise all over Eastern Europe, while LGBTI persons are beaten and killed, public events are banned, peaceful activists are arrested and homo- and transphobia flourish; IDAHO is a reminder that the international community bears responsibility for securing the human rights of sexual and gender minorities all over.

The regional division of the “International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans & Intersex Association” (ILGA Europe) released its annual “Rainbow Map” this week; an overview of how the rights of LGBTI persons are fulfilled in all European countries. Not unexpectedly are Russia, Azerbaijan and Armenia at the very bottom of the list, and Ukraine, Macedonia and Belarus only a few points ahead.

The Norwegian Helsinki Committee is deeply concerned about how these states promotes and condone grave human rights violations, and the wide support this practice has got in the general population. – The Rainbow Map confirms our concerns about the situation and what we see in our everyday work, says General Secretary in NHC Bjørn Engesland. – Non-compliance with international human rights standards is a severe problem in both Russia and the other countries at the bottom of the list, and both propaganda legislation and other restrictions on civil society create a very difficult situation for LGBTI activists.

The Austrian drag artist Conchita Wurst recently came in third in the Russian Eurovision popular vote despite her non-traditional gender expression, and her song “Rise like a Phoenix” is the most downloaded song from iTunes right now. One can only hope that this is an indication that homo- and transphobic attitudes can change, even in the “worst” country in Europe.

Homo- and transphobia is a worldwide threat to LGBTI persons all over the world, and it is the responsibility of the state to prevent it. Unfortunately the practice of portraying LGBTI persons as threats to family values and children’s welfare promotes these attitudes, and legitimizes homo- and transphobic crimes as well.

– Norway has been a frontrunner on promoting LGBTI rights on an international level, and it is very important that the rights of LGBTI will continue to be a subject on the agenda in international fora, says Engesland. – IDAHO provides an opportunity to raise awareness about the urgency of the situation.

22 June will NHC, the Norwegian LGBT organization and Amnesty organize the seminars “Caught in the frontline of the new cold war – How LGBT people are caught in the clash between ‘traditional values’ and ‘human rights’” and “Life under the threat of anti-homosexuality laws”. Both seminars are dedicated to the situation for LGBTI persons in Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, Lithuania, Latvia and Moldova, and will be part of the program of Europride 2014 in Oslo.